Calling out the vendors: Lessons learned

I’m pretty impressed with a recent series of events where respected L&D community member Judy Katz called out vendor MindFlash on their rather interesting “engagement measurement/assistance” tool, FocusAssist. The tool was discussed in this article from Learning Solutions Magazine.

You can read Judy’s post on the matter here, and a quick check of the #FocusAssist hashtag on Twitter will shed some additional light.

So, I learned a few things by watching this drama unfold, and by participating.

1. The L&D community appreciates the benefits of EdTech, but is also profoundly aware of the scary possibilities when the (potentially) wrong kind of tech is introduced to educational settings with (seemingly) little thought on impact and abuses.

2. We are quick to stand up for one another. It’s a nice thing to know that folks like @aaronesilvers, @moehlert, @reubentozman, and others will have your back when it’s needed (and sometimes even when you don’t know you need it).

3. There are some vendors who aren’t afraid to think outside the box and try solutions, even ones that may not be widely understood. It’s about prototyping and learning from the experience.

4. Judging from the positive and appreciative response from the vendor, it reinforces the notion that, as a community, we shouldn’t be afraid to call vendors out when we see something that doesn’t necessarily fit with our values and notions of what is right. There’s a two-fold value in doing so: i) we start thinking a little more critically about what we see, and ii) we learn a bit more about the vendor through their response (or lack of response).

5. Social technologies and an engaged L&D community can make things happen pretty quickly.  So, kudos to Judy for raising the issue, and equal kudos to Randhir Vieira from MindFlash, not only for joining the conversation, but also for being open about what they don’t know.  I think that speaks well of them.

It was interesting to watching this all unfold. It will be equally interesting to see if the conversation continues.

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About Mark L. Sheppard

learning geek, lifelong learner, terminally curious, recovering blogger and Ed Tech explorer.

Posted on August 23, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi, Mark! Thanks so much for continuing the conversation.

    I do think it’s important — extremely important — to think critically and discuss publicly, and I’m inspired by the conversation generated by the post (most of it far more insightful than my original thoughts, by the way). I took the effort to write because not much conversation was happening on the LS article…one person commented negatively, the company responded with some spin, and that was it. I thought about the new elearning designer who may stumble across that article in a year. To their eyes, maybe that feature would seem like a good idea and they wouldn’t see much contradicting it.

    As far as Mindflash’s positive response, I think the proof is in the pudding and it hasn’t been served yet. Community engagement is great, saying that you’re open to people’s responses is great, and actually using those responses to inform product design is something else entirely. The great thing is that now that people have discussed this publicly and hopefully will continue to, they have that opportunity.

    • You’re very welcome, Judy, and you’re absolutely right that MF does have to close the loop of this thing. Having said that, I’m taking the view that a response from the vendor is more than most people get when raising questions in a public/social forum. It’s probably worth keeping the ‘pressure’ up on them to see where this goes. Could be a win for everyone.

  2. Thanks for pulling this together Mark. I’m not just saying that because I’m also Mark. I think the reason that Judy reacted like she did and the reason the rest of reacted as we did was based on what we’ve already seen happen in this space. You’re right when you say we appreciate prototyping and positive vendor responses – it’s all good and thanks go to Mindflash for engaging – the point is not that we don’t have sufficient technology – the point is that we don’t have sufficient design. We’ve all watched brilliant technology squeezed into outdated modes or products or used to some horrific purpose like turning out more compliance training BETTER FASTER CHEAPER. Clients, conferences, curriculum of ISD programs – to varying degrees they all conspire to maintain this status quo. Those of us on the edge (through no fault of our own) see things differently and thus we react strongly when we see yet another technology that we feel will probably be deployed to less than productive uses. So we can keep pressure on certain points but what we’ll need is consistent pressure across the board.

    • Excellent points, Mark (and not just because I’m also a Mark).

      It’s not the first time in history that a technology has run rough-shod over the processes that would effectively guide its use. We have to keep pushing and asking questions.

      I can think of a few very popular vendors who should really know better. Sure, you can “convert” your PPT into e-learning quickly. But why would you want to??

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